Monday, December 29, 2014

"The Imitation Game"

I am using a laptop computer right now to write this review of the movie The Imitation Game which is about Alan Turing, the mathematician, computer developer, and cryptanalyst whose work at Bletchley Park during WWII was instrumental in breaking the Nazi's Enigma code and machine.  Turing is the guy we have to thank for our computers.

In the late 1930's, he envisioned a machine that could solve complex problems like breaking a code instantly. He built just such a machine at Bletchley Park that helped to break the Enigma code.  And I thought Turing just dreamed up the Turing question about whether a questioner is talking to a human or machine based on the answers he receives.

Photo: Jack English/Blackbear Pictures
The Imitation Game opens with Turing's arrival at Bletchley Park just after Britain declared war on Germany. Benedict Cumberbatch plays this historical character as indelibly human, wanting to fit in at the same time not really caring what people thought of him.  What people at that time took for arrogance and eccentricity looked, in this movie, glaringly like Asperger's and fits the profile for a mild case. The portrait of this man that Cumberbatch presents is deeply human, compassionate, and intelligent. It brought Turing alive for me in a profoundly sympathetic way. Much of the humor in the film arises from Turing's behavioral ticks and bluntness. 

Turing is living a dangerous secret and being asked to take on an even more dangerous secret by working at Bletchley.  But the work is what he loves and is exceedingly good at.  His prickliness alienates his co-workers for a while until Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley in a radiantly intelligent portrayal) helps him see how to connect with them on a human level.

Photo: Jack English/Blackbear Pictures
The movie has been structured in a rondo-like form.  Bletchley is the A section, while his experience as a young boy in boarding school is the B section, and his experience in 1951 of being robbed is the C section.  The story moves easily among these sections, providing connections, motivations, and insights into Turing's character and thinking.  Gradually the viewer learns (if not already known) that Turing is gay at a time in Britain when homosexuality was illegal and prosecuted as a crime (Remember Oscar Wilde?). While there are no sex scenes in this movie, Turing's unique human tragedy was his difficulties connecting with people in general as well as on an intimate level.  He manages to attain the latter with Joan Clarke in their chaste relationship that's intimate emotionally and intellectually.

The Bletchley sections in which Turing fights to build his machine, then struggles with his team to find the key to breaking the Enigma code are like a really good, suspenseful spy thriller -- and I already knew the outcome.  It was fascinating to watch the team's dynamic, then how they bounced ideas off each other, and what finally triggered Turing's insight that led to the key's discovery.  What came next is an incredibly emotionally harrowing scene (at least it was for me) regarding who to share their success with.

The C section builds slowly, sort of a shadow dogging the other sections.  As a result of the robbery, the Manchester policeman in charge of the investigation decides there's something not right and Turing must be up to something. This leads him to do what any good cop does -- legwork, asking questions, interviewing people, etc.  What he learns disappoints him terribly but spells doom for Turing.  How Cumberbatch handled the last 15 min. of this story alone deserves an Oscar, even if the preceding did not (it does).  He manages to keep Turing from being reduced to a maudlin caricature, but shows him fiercely human, navigating a situation that absolutely horrified me.

Photo: Jack English/Blackbear Picures
Hurrah to The Imitation Game and to everyone connected with it -- writer, producers, director, crew, and especially a stellar cast. Charles Dance gives the Navy Commander running Bletchley the absolutely right attitude about everything (he's always right).  Mark Strong -- what a performance -- plays MI6 liaison Stewart Menzies with refined ambiguity, unpredictability, and secrecy.  Matthew Goode is far more than the handsome one of the lot, and the other supporting players add their strengths to the whole.

I recommend this movie so highly it gets 10 stars on a scale of 1-5.  Brilliant, intelligent, an action movie for the mind, this will be the movie to beat at the Oscars this year (IMO)....  

4 comments:

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I enjoyed this review and I like your thoughtful blog. Just signed on to follow you.

Gina said...

Thanks for the comment and the follow!

Thomas Watson said...

Benedict Cumberbatch was incredible. He is really setting himself up as the go-to guy for any anti-social genius type of character. It would be unfortunate if he ends up being typecast as that guy and never gets any other kind of role, though, as good as he is at it. I think I may be becoming convinced he's more than just that.

Gina said...

I agree, Thomas. It would be very interesting to see him tackle a completely different kind of character. I'm sure he could do it.